If you’ve been around this hobby for some time, you’ve probably heard one “absolute” truth over and over again: SPG point is the most valuable out there. Period.
And to an extent, this is definitely the case. If I were given a choice of 100K Ultimate Rewards and 100K SPG points, I would probably pick the latter. After all, SPG currency is so hard to accumulate and Amex only lets you have one sign up bonus per lifetime. Add to it the recent merger with Marriott, plus plethora of airline partners, and it’s easy to see why SPG point is so darn valuable.
But if I had to pick just one flexible currency for everyday spending, I would make it Ultimate Rewards, hands down. I’ve already written a post where I said that when comparing apples to apples, UR point is superior to MR. Obviously, it’s YMMV kind of deal, and there is nothing wrong with accumulating both. But for families who take even a few trips per year, the simplicity of Chase proprietary currency can’t be beat.
Lately I’ve been seeing more and more die-hard UR fans say that they prefer to accumulate SPG points on non-bonus spending categories if they don’t happen to have Chase Freedom Unlimited. The latter earns 1.5 UR points on everything and SPG card only earns 1 point. Most people value 1.5 UR points higher that 1 SPG point, but not all.
Let’s assume that due to 5/24 rule, you can’t apply for Chase Freedom Unlimited. Should you perhaps just stick to UR combo of Chase Sapphire Reserve/Freedom? Or should you diversify and add Amex SPG into the mix? It really depends.
When you may want to switch to Amex SPG
First of all, keep in mind that by hanging on to Amex SPG long-term, you are paying an annual fee of $95. You should always factor it in when doing calculations.
Sure, you can usually make up for it via Amex “Offers for You” program, but you can just get a no-fee American Express card instead and make a profit. Business version of Amex SPG is a different beast since you get club lounge access, so the fee can be easily justified if you frequently stay at Sheraton.
Anyway, every person is different, so I’m not going to make blanket statements. But here are a few scenarios where it could make sense to choose SPG points over UR points on non-bonus spending, even if you have Chase Freedom Unlimited in addition to Chase Sapphire Reserve:
1) You want to stay at category 1 and 2 SPG properties (2,000-3,000 points on weekends) and 1-3 category Marriott hotels (7,500-15,000 points anytime). You can instantly transfer from SPG to Marriott at 1:3 rate. This scenario becomes even more compelling if you plan to stay 5 consecutive nights at Marriott (last night being free).
2) You frequently use Amtrak. SPG is the only partner of the program and points transfer 1:1. Since you can get close to three cents per Amtrak point towards rail fares, this is a very good option for some.
3) You are saving points for a Marriott package. I wrote about Southwest Companion Pass arbitrage opportunity that will go away on March 31st. But there are plenty of other options like United, Alaska, Avios, Korean Sky Pass and more. Depending on your plans, those could be very compelling also.
4) You need to top off an account that doesn’t partner with UR program. Alaska and AAdvantage come to mind.
5) You need to stay at a fancy SPG or Marriott property over a major holiday (like New Year’s Eve) or a special event when the rates are through the roof.
Otherwise, you may want to stick to good ole’ UR program. One of my friends is flying to San Francisco with her husband at the end of April. They are nice people who don’t have a lot of money, so I offered to cover one night near the airport with my UR stash.
Here is what SPG program wanted for the same property:
Once you add the taxes, you can see that the paid rate matches the one you can get via UR travel portal. Any reasonable person would just save their SPG points and pay cash. But since you have UR currency, you can have the best of both worlds. You don’t have to part with cash, which is always a plus.
Well, technically, you can redeem 8,000 UR points for $80, but since you are getting 50% bonus on the hotel you want anyway, why not use your stash? After all, that’s why you are accumulating the points in the first place. It does, of course, depend on the season, and if you want the same hotel during a special event, it will cost you more. But in general, you should be able to find an airport property for $180 all-in or 12,000 UR points redeemed via CSR.
So, if you are looking at SPG or Marriott properties that cost 10,000 and 30,000 points per night respectively, you may want to stick with just earning UR currency. After all, 10,000 UR points can book you a $150 hotel room, ANY hotel room. It can be an SPG property or a condo, which is a far superior option for families with kids.
You will have far more flexibility, plus don’t forget, you can always cash in your UR points towards statement credit on 1:1 basis. SPG points may be the most valuable (in theory), but UR points are the most flexible.
If at the moment you have very few SPG points, it will take you some time to accumulate the amount you need for any redemption. For hotels, that means at least 2,000 points for a cat.1 property on a weekend. That’s at least $2,000 in spending, a good chunk of money.
Instead, you can just add points to your existing UR stash and put them to good use tomorrow if the need arises. You’ll receive 1.5 cents towards travel or perhaps transfer your points for a low-category Hyatt stay. A UR point in a hand is worth two SPG points in a bush. OK, maybe not quite, but you get what I’m trying to say. A point is only worth something when it’s actually redeemed.
CSR vs. Amex SPG
There is absolutely no question that if you can pick up 100K points bonus on Chase Sapphire Reserve in branch, you should go for it. You only have till March 11th to do so. You can see my post Amex SPG vs. CSR vs. Merrill +Visa Signature. Be aware, Merrill card is no longer in the picture, so it’s now down to those two offers. Well, technically, there is also Wells Fargo Propel World, and I definitely recommend you consider it as well.
But if you are relatively new to the game and are looking for a card that earns flexible points, it’s tough to beat CSR. Note that it doesn’t pay me commission. If for whatever reason you can’t apply for CSR, Amex SPG is a very compelling offer. Sure, 35,000 points may not seem like much. But if you are looking to stay at cat. 2 hotel, that’s almost ten nights from just one card. Not too shabby.
One “sweet spot” hotel I’ve mentioned before is Four Points by Sheraton Niagara Falls Fallsview It’s a category 2, which means it costs 3,000 points on weekends, 4,000 points on weekdays. You just can’t beat this deal during summer when rates are $150 per night. There are many other good uses, of course, so I recommend you see this post for more details.
You have to apply before April 5th in order to get the increased bonus on both personal and business versions of Amex SPG card. They do pay us commission if you feel inclined to support the blog. Nancy and I believe in 100% transparency when it comes to our readers, even if it’s detrimental to our bottom line (and it often is).
Be aware, this offer may come back later on, you never know. But it is definitely a good deal, just not as good as 100K points bonus on CSR.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.